Reviewed by: Sean Fetterly
|Featuring:||Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Flora Cross, Max Minghella, Kate Bosworth|
|Director:||David Siegel, Scott McGehee|
|Producer:||Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa|
“Words may define us, but it’s love that connects us.”
Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Eliza Naumann (Flora Cross) has no reason to believe she is anything but ordinary. Her father Saul (Richard Gere), a beloved university professor, dotes on her talented elder brother Aaron (Max Minghella). Her scientist mother, Miriam (Juliette Binoche), seems consumed by her career. When a spelling bee threatens to reaffirm her mediocrity, Eliza amazes everyone: she wins.
Her newfound gift garners an invitation not only to the national competition, but an entrée into the world of words and Jewish mysticism that have so long captivated her father’s imagination. But Eliza’s unexpected success hurls the Naumann family dynamic into a tailspin, long-held secrets emerge and she is forced to depend upon her own divination to hold the family together.”
A movie that attempts to surpass the level of the usual formulaic fodder that Hollywood continually foists upon us tends to earn a greater tolerance of its flaws. I must confess to wrestling with a grudging admiration of “Bee Season”, the big screen adaptation of the Myra Goldberg novel of the same name. However, despite the picture’s laudable challenge to use our minds for something deeper than simple entertainment, it ultimately falls flat with the usual nihilistic message. It takes a more interesting path than most, but still winds up with the intrinsic lack of hope that life without God inevitably leads to.
Saul Naumann, played by Richard Gere, is a professor of Judaism with decidedly mystical leanings, such as a fascination with Kabbalah. He is a particular proponent of a teaching that words are containers of God. Needless to say, when his daughter Eliza (played in a beautifully understated manner by Flora Cross) displays an inexplicable increase in her spelling ability, he sees great spiritual implications. The parenting time and energy that he previously lavished on the older son Aaron (Max Minghella) is now focused on his daughter as she marches up the spelling bee ranks, with him trying to live his spiritual life vicariously through her all the way.
Every character in “Bee Season” plays off the father’s intense, controlling yearnings for a greater significance in different ways. Even the wife’s (Juliette Binoche) descent into kleptomania is an attempt at achieving wholeness—she takes literally his take on the “Big Bang” that teaches that the world shattered into “shards” that we need to gather together again.
Aaron responds to his father’s overbearing ways and sudden doting on Eliza with a rebellious rejection of his teachings and dives into Hinduism. Eliza’s response to her father’s tutelage is the fulcrum on which the story turns.
Her resolution is simultaneously frustrating and a relief. Since the movie is replete with religious teachings that don’t measure up biblically, it’s gratifying that the story doesn’t finally endorse any of them as the correct path. This, however, not only leaves a few logical holes in the story (there are points in which there seem to be supernatural confirmation of these teachings), but leaves us with the standard message that people loving each other is all that matters and that seeking God leads nowhere.
We are unfortunately also treated to the all too common tendency to strive for “maturity” with a sex scene that does nothing to propel the plot, and a few instances of vulgarity (one use of the Lord’s name in vain and a few “f-words”)—all the more lamentable in a picture in which the protagonist is a sweet young girl. She is the purest aspect of the story, and her desire to see her family whole is touching and a worthwhile message in itself.
This film is fairly well executed, with an appropriate sense of pacing, and the acting is uniformly solid. The story, despite some underdeveloped character motivations and logical flaws, is memorable. However, it’s really the proverbial double-edged sword—seeing characters that are looking at more than the temporal is heartening, but since the searching leads nowhere, it’s ultimately discouraging.
To those who approach this film with Christian discernment, there’s an interesting story to be had and some interesting grist for the mill, but not much more. Individuals that are searching themselves will no doubt identify to some degree with one or more of these characters, but therein lies the spiritual danger of a movie like this—an encouragement to accept the false notion that we ourselves are the ultimate reality. My prayer is that those seeing this movie would pick up the search for Truth where these characters left off.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate